LUXEMBOURG — European Union foreign ministers on Monday approved moves to "urgently" plan for a possible military mission to help Mali reconquer its vast arid north from rebels and Islamist extremists.
Gathered in Luxembourg, a statement from 27 EU ministers said the bloc "is determined to back Mali in re-establishing the rule of law and a democratic and fully sovereign government across its entire territory".
A two-page document calls for "planning work on a potential military mission ... to be pursued and deepened urgently".
"The European Union has clearly committed in favour of Mali," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
"We cannot allow terrorism to take root in an area beyond all lawful control in northern Mali," said German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.
Military putschists seized power in the capital Bamako in March, ousting President Amadou Toumani Toure, only to see the north and east fall to Tuareg rebels and militias linked to Al-Qaeda.
And in Bamako last week, thousands took to the streets demanding armed intervention by a West African force to oust Islamists forcing women to wear veils and destroying ancient tombs as they impose Sharia law.
The plan being mulled by the EU will touch on "the organisation and training of the Malian defence forces, taking into account the conditions needed to efficiently fulfill a possible mission, including the full and entire support of the Malian authorities," the EU statement said.
"We have an ungoverned space under the control of terrorists, with narco-trafficking and smuggling of all kinds," an EU official told AFP. "A credible threat of force -- that is what is lacking."
Different ideas are currently under examination ahead of key talks in Bamako on Friday gathering the West African regional body ECOWAS, the African Union, the EU, the United Nations and Mali's neighbours to thrash out a political and military strategy to end the crisis.
The most likely scenario will be the quick dispatch of some 150 senior army trainers, an EU official said.
But another scenario is for sending EU instructors to work alongside the Mali military, Afghan-style, as its soldiers march north.
France has drawn up a UN Security Council resolution seeking a detailed plan within 30 days on an international military intervention following a formal request from the authorities in Bamako.
The UN Security Council approved a resolution last Friday that presses West African nations to speed up preparations for an international military intervention aimed at reconquering northern Mali.
The council asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to work with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union in order to submit to the council within 45 days "detailed and actionable recommendations" in preparation for the deployment of an international military force in Mali.
After details for military intervention are submitted, the 15-member council would still have to pass a second resolution to give the green light to the deployment. That is not expected to happen before the end of the year.
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